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"Music from Saxon Castle Churches"

Concert Royal Köln

rec: Dec 27 - 29, 2008, Wetter (Hessen), Evangelische Stiftskirche
Cantate - C 58038 (© 2008) (74'23")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Fantasia sopra Jesus, meines Lebens Leben (BWV deest) (attr)ac; Signor BACH (?-?): Sonata in c minora; Gotthilf Friedrich EBHARDT (1771-c1840): Befiehl du deine Wegea; Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schulda; Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785): Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (HoWV X Anh. 9) (attr)b; Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (HoWV Anh. 10) (attr)b; Jesu, meine Zuversicht (HoWV X, Anh. 2)ad; Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (HoWV X,27)ad; O Gott, du frommer Gott (HoWV X Anh. 7) (attr)b; O Gott, du frommer Gott (HoWV X Anh. 8) (attr)b; Johann Ludwig KREBS (1713-1780): Fantasia in Fb; Fantasia a 4 in Fa; Fantasia a 4 in f minora; Christian Gotthilf TAG (1735-1811): Befiehl du deine Wegea; Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmeina; Nun danket alle Gotta

Karla Schröter, oboea, oboe d'amoreb; Chiharu Abe, violinc; Ulrich Schardt, tromboned; Willi Kronenberg, organ

This disc is devoted to a genre which was quite popular in post-baroque Germany: music for concertante organ and a melody instrument. The largest part of the repertoire consists of chorale arrangements in which the cantus firmus wasn't played by one of the hands of the organist, but given to an instrument, often the oboe, but also the transverse flute, the trumpet or even the horn or the bassoon. One of the most profilic composers of music in this genre was Johann Ludwig Krebs, one of Bach's favourite pupils. These are collected in his Clavier-Übung, which has been recorded complete by the organist Franz Raml with his Hassler-Consort (MDG, 2000). As a matter of good fortune we don't hear any of those chorale arrangements here, but rather pieces by other composers of his time and later generations. Some of these are rather unknown, and that makes this disc all the more interesting.

One composer figures prominently on the programme: Gottfried August Homilius, another of Bach's pupils and the most prominent composer of church music in Germany in the second half of the 18th century. His oeuvre has raised the interest of interpreters in recent years which has resulted in various recordings, a number of which have been reviewed on this site. In his chorale arrangements for organ and melody instrument the various parts are closely connected: the instrument - here the oboe or oboe d'amore - usually end the piece simultaneously. That is different in the arrangements of Christian Gotthilf Tag, who was a pupil of the Kreuzschule in Dresden, at the instigation of Homilius. He developed into a prolific composer of sacred music. In his arrangements the oboe has a more subordinate role than in those by Homilius. It enters only after a long introduction of the organ and the cantus firmus ends long before the piece comes to an end. The least-known composer on this disc is Gotthilf Friedrich Ebhardt, who has no entry in New Grove. He was a pupil of Tag and worked in various places as chamber musician, organist and teacher. He seems to have been rather conservative; in her liner-notes Karla Schröter mentions that in some works he composed in the 19th century he still included a basso continuo part to be played at the harpsichord. The dates of composition of the two chorale arrangements are not given, but they sound indeed rather conservative, reflecting the style of his teacher and the pupils of Bach rather than the fashion of the early 19th century.

A curious piece is the Fantasia sopra Jesus, meines Lebens Leben which could have been written by Johann Sebastian Bach and which has been preserved in a copyist's handwriting in the Berlin State Library. "In this copy, the fantasia is followed immediately by the chorale prelude "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" from Bach's Orgelbüchlein. The annotation "Em. Bach" at the top right of the page, which attributes this fantasia to Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel, was added later by another hand". Only the upper part which includes the cantus firmus has the indication Hautbois, whereas the other parts don't give a clue as to which instrument(s) should play them. According to Ms Schröter the bass part cannot be played on any organ pedal because of its compass. Therefore the two lower parts are played at the two manuals of the organ and the second part is performed here at the violin. One wonders whether this was rather meant as a piece for an instrumental ensemble. The fact that after the last line of the cantus firmus the oboe has to play a cadenza - just like in the sinfonias of some of Bach's cantatas - could point in the same direction.

The balance between the organ and the melody instrument is different in the three Fantasias by Krebs. These are in four parts which are strictly equal. That is not well realised here in the two fantasias with oboe. The latter is too dominant which is partly due to Ms Schröter's playing but also to a probably too modest registration by Willi Kronenberg. The balance is much better in the Fantasia in F which is played at the oboe d'amore; this instrument produces a mellower and less penetrating sound than the oboe.

Sonatas for oboe and basso continuo are likely intended for a performance with a harpsichord. But there is no objection to a performance with an organ, and the two sonatas on this disc are a nice addition to the programme. The Sonata in F by Homilius is the only piece of chamber music from his pen which is known. The Sonata in c minor is by a certain "Signor Bach"; it is impossible to say who this "Bach" may have been. The sonata has been preserved in two sources one of which gives the transverse flute as the scoring, whereas the other mentions the oboe. It is the oldest piece in the programme and dates from the early 18th century.

This is a very interesting disc as this description of the programme indicates. One reason is the genre which is the thread of the programme and which doesn't get that much attention. Moreover the programme includes some intriguing pieces which raise questions in regard to authorship and scoring. The playing by all performers is quite good; the less than ideal balance between oboe and organ in the two Krebs Fantasias is only a little blot on what is a fine production.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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